SEVERE WX : Winter Weather Advisory View Alerts

Battle over the GOP memo

Does the Nunes memo undermine its own core argument? CNN's Christi Paul breaks it down for us.

Posted: Feb 5, 2018 11:25 AM
Updated: Feb 5, 2018 11:25 AM

In 1930, Professor Edward G. Boring, the first historian of modern psychology, wrote a paper that called attention to the concept of the ambiguous illusion -- "My Wife and My Mother-In-Law."

As the viewer looks at the illusion, what once appears to be a young woman subtly transforms into an elderly one. Boring used the drawing to highlight perceptual ambiguity, where our perception of a figure remains stable until we focus on a different region or contour. The iconic image later become known as a "Boring figure."

On Friday, after declassification and clearance from the White House, California Republican Devin Nunes, who is chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI), dropped a "Boring figure" into our laps -- the memo.

Once released, Democrats and Republicans made their respective cases that what we were witnessing was a "wife" and ... a "mother-in-law."

So, just how can one three-and-a-half-page document generate two disparate interpretations?

Let's start with the fact that the Trump presidency has divided our nation in ways that, as a military historian, I can really only equate to the mid-19th century when our country was riven by divisive issues that eventually led to a bloody civil war.

At least, back then, one side was righteously fighting to keep the Union intact and to free the slaves. Today, as #Resistance collides with #MAGA, the lines can be blurred.

And in distilling the true impact of the memo, good and decent folks can assess its importance entirely differently. For example, Jonathan Turley and Jeffrey Toobin -- both considered scholarly legal analysts -- came down on opposite sides on this one.

Turley sees the memo as damning for both the Democrats and the FBI. Toobin, however, referred to it as "a dark day in American history," and described what Nunes had accomplished with its release as "an embarrassment to the United States Congress."

So, what the hell is it -- a damned "wife" or "mother-in-law"?

Look, is it possible that it's both? And with that, husbands around the world are cringing and cursing me. But allow me to answer my own question: Yes, it can be both -- a classic example of perceptual ambiguity.

And, as often occurs, both sides make valid points and then invalidate their arguments by cravenly overplaying their hands.

This is accomplished by engaging in "spin," and ignoring facts that are harmful to their own argument or position. When both sides react with moral outrage at the opposing party's prospects, though, we end up nowhere.

Allow me to provide some examples to make sense of all this:

In the run-up to the memo's release, two proponents of the document, Representatives Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and Steve King (R-IA), made some statements that defy credulity.

Gowdy claimed that the memo's release would be "embarrassing" to Minority Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA). And King claimed that the memo highlighted abuses of power that ran "deeper than Watergate."

In the end, the memo -- while highlighting some troubling items that were already in the public domain --- was really just a tempest in a teapot.

Nunes, Gowdy and King overplayed a winning hand that contained real and tangible instances of inappropriate conduct by senior executives at FBI headquarters. The underwhelming document also distractingly buried the lede --- which was a fair and reasonable accounting of the evidence used in a FISA application that resulted in monitoring of Trump campaign associates.

But the Democrats engaged in their own embarrassing conduct by crying wolf prior to the memo's release.

Schiff and the other Democrats made hyperbolic insinuations that Nunes' impending memo release would result in the street executions of FBI sources, sensitive surveillance methods disclosed to the world and condemnation from our allies in the intelligence-sharing community.

Humbly speaking, now having read it in its entirety: the memo can't be considered the proverbial "smoking gun," and, so far, it has not resulted in irreparable damage to our intelligence institutions. (Some may argue my assessment is too premature. I, however, believe it might just age as well as a fine Bordeaux.)

The memo also didn't reveal sources and methods -- the Democrats' favorite pre-release talking point warning.

I have long maintained there needs to be a vigorous housecleaning on the seventh floor at headquarters. But the memo contained nothing all that damning -- other than a disputed claim by the GOP that Andrew McCabe testified in a closed-door committee session that absent the dossier's inclusion, the FISA application effort would never have been pursued. Democrats vehemently deny that McCabe stated that.

And maybe the real potential embarrassment will arrive by way of the upcoming Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General report. It will certainly contain assessments of Loretta Lynch's encounter with Bill Clinton on the Phoenix tarmac, James Comey's decision to speak in the July 2016 press conference on the email investigation and the Peter Strzok-Lisa Page text exchanges.

That said, this whole episode should serve as a cautionary tale for future generations of FBI executives. Democrats and Republicans can have differing opinions, but they should be careful not to let their partisan views lead them into a "Boring figure" situation, where each side exaggerates reality -- to the detriment of the American people.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 608519

Reported Deaths: 9693
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion840461335
Lake45349684
Allen32803548
Hamilton29394315
St. Joseph27380381
Elkhart24404345
Vanderburgh19411249
Tippecanoe17970138
Johnson15069295
Porter14783169
Hendricks14401248
Madison10965221
Vigo10726181
Clark10677144
Monroe9383110
Delaware9116134
LaPorte9065163
Howard8236144
Kosciusko806983
Warrick672999
Hancock6697104
Bartholomew6484100
Floyd6428110
Wayne6136162
Grant5991115
Dubois555579
Boone551168
Morgan541295
Henry507864
Marshall503984
Cass483263
Dearborn479845
Noble473059
Jackson425047
Shelby417581
Lawrence391079
Clinton373043
Gibson370359
Harrison348144
DeKalb347164
Montgomery345754
Knox335639
Miami321444
Steuben313745
Whitley307326
Wabash303251
Adams300936
Ripley298445
Putnam296850
Huntington291659
Jasper289034
White273243
Daviess270474
Jefferson263338
Decatur247683
Fayette247148
Greene239862
Posey239328
Wells236051
LaGrange228862
Scott225339
Clay222532
Randolph213548
Jennings198936
Sullivan192333
Spencer191321
Washington186423
Fountain184027
Starke175443
Jay167623
Owen165737
Fulton164030
Orange159534
Carroll158015
Rush155118
Perry154229
Vermillion149134
Franklin148333
Tipton132332
Parke13078
Pike116926
Blackford111022
Pulaski97037
Newton90921
Brown88035
Benton86610
Crawford7999
Martin73713
Warren6817
Switzerland6615
Union6287
Ohio4907
Unassigned0376

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 859841

Reported Deaths: 10680
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin101171707
Cuyahoga855711125
Hamilton64017448
Montgomery43107418
Summit34836761
Lucas31350625
Butler30973232
Stark25786435
Warren19671140
Lorain19017223
Mahoning17321338
Lake16080154
Clermont15926111
Delaware1438878
Licking13204137
Trumbull12809316
Fairfield1279381
Greene12055137
Medina11591168
Clark10942265
Wood10348158
Allen9897126
Portage9296109
Miami916873
Richland9139118
Marion7459113
Tuscarawas7381182
Columbiana7327124
Pickaway726150
Wayne7034171
Muskingum703141
Erie6152129
Hancock552390
Ross548998
Scioto539164
Geauga508455
Darke470292
Ashtabula453073
Lawrence452654
Union451828
Sandusky436662
Mercer433589
Seneca430166
Huron428741
Auglaize422264
Shelby421222
Jefferson419269
Belmont416840
Washington388740
Athens38009
Putnam374975
Madison355129
Knox352622
Ashland344938
Fulton338443
Defiance330086
Crawford322374
Preble320637
Brown312921
Logan307332
Ottawa293943
Clinton290143
Williams278667
Highland275118
Jackson263845
Guernsey254125
Champaign252028
Fayette236530
Morrow23234
Perry231318
Holmes225474
Henry218749
Hardin213033
Coshocton205622
Van Wert202245
Gallia196726
Wyandot196051
Pike176217
Adams176115
Hocking172024
Carroll155616
Paulding144321
Noble120540
Meigs108624
Monroe100732
Harrison89121
Morgan83130
Vinton70213
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Cloudy
30° wxIcon
Hi: 31° Lo: 26°
Feels Like: 30°
Angola
Cloudy
28° wxIcon
Hi: 29° Lo: 21°
Feels Like: 28°
Huntington
Cloudy
30° wxIcon
Hi: 31° Lo: 25°
Feels Like: 30°
Fort Wayne
Cloudy
30° wxIcon
Hi: 31° Lo: 26°
Feels Like: 30°
Lima
Cloudy
29° wxIcon
Hi: 32° Lo: 26°
Feels Like: 22°
Dry start to Monday, snow/freezing rain moves in late
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events